Corporate courtesies: Is respect in the workplace been abandoned?

From prime minister Tony Blair to teenagers wearing ‘hoodies’ standing around on street corners, everyone seems to be talking about respect. But while this has previously seemed a fairly vague concept, research shows that lack of respect is having a specific and damaging effect on our working lives.

Communication consultancy CHA’s Business Behaving Badly survey of more than 1,000 workers found that common courtesies are being abandoned in workplaces across the UK. And it is costing businesses money.

“Rude companies inevitably experience poor engagement and motivation, and high stress levels and absenteeism,” said CHA chief executive Colette Hill.

The problem, it appears, starts at the top. Almost half of respondents said employees in their organisation are bullied into doing things by their bosses. Four out of 10 workers feel that criticism is not given constructively.

This approach filters down throughout the company. “In an organisation where leaders are selectively courteous, others will inevitably follow the unspoken rules of engagement,” said Hill.

Meetings are a classic place for disrespect to surface. Top complaints include turning up late, cancelling at short notice, interrupting colleagues and ignoring people.

“At a meeting at head office, being the most junior member of staff present, my opinions and ideas were ignored,” said one respondent to the survey. “Yet when a senior member of staff said exactly the same thing a little later, he was praised by the chair.”

And despite being dragged to meetings every time the photocopier needs new paper or someone has used the office milk supply for thecereal, many workers feel they are being left in the dark over important issues.

“Major changes are not communicated at all well, even when they have a major impact on the staff,” added another respondent. “This causes frustration, and inaccurate rumours are often circulated.”

More than 50% of employees say meetings over delicate issues are shunned in favour of the curse of all large organisations – the group e-mail. “People are more negative and blaming on e-mail than they would be face-to-face,” said one. “E-mail is used to cover people’s backs, and takes trust away.”

A significant proportion said e-mails are sent to all staff without proper thought about who actually requires the information. Do workers in the Manchester office really care that those on the second floor of the Lowestoft branch can’t use the toilets on the third floor until the plumber comes later that afternoon?

Interestingly, however, while over-use of communications tools is a major gripe of 21st century employees, not responding to e-mails and phone calls also annoys people. Respect is clearly a fine line for bosses and employees to tread. This is perhaps best illustrated by the cringe-factor of some attempts to put things right.

“We begin every meeting by asking everyone to summarise their expectations for that meeting,” says Tesco press officer Deborah Watson. “At the end, expectations are reviewed to ensure that they have been met and, if they have not been, to understand why.” Presumably workers are allowed meal and sleep breaks throughout this long-winded procedure.

Meanwhile, energy supplier E.ON UK should consider employing Alan Partridge

“When some of our field-based employees said they wanted to hear more about the company, we introduced Newsline,” said internal communications manager Lesley Kent. “It’s a phone-in radio-style show so they can listen to our news every week.”

Perhaps, on balance, lack of respect doesn’t seem so bad.

Top tips on corporate courtesy:

  • Say please and thank you

  • Don’t use e-mail to break difficult news, reprimand or comment on behaviour

  • Start and end meetings on time

  • Tailor your communications to meet individuals’ needs 

  • Respond to all voice-mails and e-mails within 24 hours

Source: CHA

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